The late Kofi Annan, a son of Africa and a graduate of Macalester College, once said: “Literacy is quite simply the bridge from misery to hope.”
That sentiment is nowhere more important than among the youth of Africa, which has the youngest population in the world. Some 225 million Africans are between the ages of 15 and 24, a number that is expected to more than double in the next 40 years, according to the United Nations.
In 40 African countries, over half the population is under 20, compared to 30 richer countries in which less than 20 percent of the population is under 20, according to the World Bank.
Great challenge, great opportunity
A youthful population presents a great challenge to developing economies providing enough jobs. But it also presents a great opportunity for economic development and growth. And the key to meeting that opportunity is the education of our young people. Educating our youthful labor force will ensure that our youth will become a force for good across the continent.
The African Union’s long-term plan, called “Agenda 2063,” envisions “a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development.” And it adds that “development is people-driven, relying on the potential of African people, especially its women and youth, and caring for children.”
We are making strides and debating the best ways to educate our youth for the jobs of the future. But we need partners both for economic development and for support of our efforts to educate our youth.
Our preferred partner: America
And despite all the talk about Chinese investment in Africa, America remains our preferred partner. We were able to deal with apartheid because of support of America. There is much good will in Africa for America. But we want America as equal partners. To date there have been significant misunderstandings on both sides.
The key to developing this partnership is to involve the African diasporan community. Right here in Minnesota we have the largest Somali-American community in the country. We have a large Ethiopian community. A Liberian community. A Nigerian community. A Kenyan community, and more.
They run businesses, do business in Africa, work for Minnesota companies that do business in Africa, send funds to relatives and are connected to the continent even if they have never been there. To our diasporan brothers and sisters, we say: You are not African because you were born in Africa. Rather you are African because Africa was born in you. Mobilizing the diaspora holds the key to our success.
And people and businesses in the African diaspora help support Minnesota nonprofits such as Books For Africa, based in St. Paul, which has sent 44 million books to every country in Africa over the past 30 years. World Bank data show that books are among the lowest cost/highest impact tools for education. BFA’s own data show that nearly 80 percent of book recipients agree that books received will have a positive impact on their communities.
These school books, medical books, law books and agricultural books help educate our youth, our future work force and our future leaders. We want your support. We cannot do it alone.
Recognizing the importance of the diasporan connection in Minnesota to Africa, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said recently that he planned to visit the sister city of Bosaso in Somalia. We appreciate his gesture and believe it is one more positive step in building a stronger relationship between the U.S. and Africa.
Essential ingredients to democracy development
Kofi Annan and his friend, Minnesota’s Walter Mondale, who were honorary co-chairs of Books For Africa’s Law and Democracy Initiative, pointed out a few years ago that there are two ingredients essential to development of democracy: “A determination to educate a country’s citizens and a commitment to the rule of law.”
Those ingredients foster economic development and trade with America and help provide a brighter future for Africa’s youthful population. We need to move forward as partners. The 55 countries of the African Union are ready and willing. Perhaps then the words of the African Union Anthem will be realized:
O Sons and Daughters of Africa
Flesh of the Sun and Flesh of the Sky
Let us make Africa the Tree of Life.
Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao, M.D., is the African Union ambassador to the United States. She was the keynote speaker the Books For Africa’s 30th Anniversary celebration Sept. 28 in Minneapolis. Jote Taddese, a native of Ethiopia, is Senior IT advisor at Medtronic and President of the Board of Books For Africa.